Anyone who writes on a regular basis knows that things don’t always turn out (on paper) exactly as you see them (in your head). Somehow it’s always ten times more epic up in your noggin, even though you wrote it down exactly as it was in your mind.
And, the worst problem of all, rebellious characters!!!
You’ve been there, right? A character rebels and you’re stuck trying to explain it to a non-writer friend (or family member). You’re saying things like, “And then, they did (whatever-it-was-they-did).” And your non-writer friend? They ask the following stupid question: “Can’t you just make him/her do what you want them to?”
These well-meaning friends have obviously never written a story in their life.
Unfortunately for us, our characters are less like puppets and more like actual, living, breathing people. Sometimes they make decisions we hadn’t counted on and change the entire outcome of a story. Sometimes they do or say something so wonderful we WISH we had come up with it first. They are always full of surprises, and we are only poor, unfortunate onlookers in their daily lives.
So, what should we do when our characters turn asunder to pillage and deprive our story of its original intent? (A fancy way of saying: “When characters are jerks and ruin your story.”) Should we do as our friends tell us and beat them into submission? Let’s take a closer look at our rebellious characters.
1 – The characters that are different than you originally thought.
This one usually isn’t too bad. The guy will be sweeter than you thought, or the girl will have an outspoken side instead of the shy, quiet girl you planned on writing. These quiet rebels are easier to deal with and usually don’t change the general storyline. It’s just really annoying.
You had planned that whole scene around how soft-spoken that girl was only to discover she’ll be yelling instead! Now you have to change how she reacts to EVERYTHING!!! Not cool, invisible friends. Not cool.
2 – The bad guy who turns out to be misunderstood.
Ugh, I hate this one! You’re going along, writing this super horrible villain and then all of a sudden… WHAM! He hits you with his entire backstory and you can’t help but feel a little sorry for him. And then, the entire rest of t he story, you feel bad when he gets beaten up, picked on, or put down.
No one knows why characters do this to us, but it’s really frustrating, right? Now you don’t know if you can kill him in the second act because he has diabolically forced you to think of him as a human being. (This is usually when you start asking yourself if he did it on purpose so you wouldn’t shoot, stab, or maim him. When voiced to unsusupecting friend/family member, they look at you like you’ve lost your marbles and leave you wondering if your villain really is THAT maniacal.)
3 – The character who is no longer anywhere near how you pictured him in your head and has now become the complete opposite of what you were going for.
Worst. Day. Ever.
It started out as any normal Tuesday. I got ready, I sat down, I pulled up my most recent short story, and I put my fingers to my keyboard. I tuned into the story playing in my head.
And suddenly two characters completely switched roles.
Picture this: I had a character who was being really mean and snooty (per the original story idea) and then I find out he’s only acting like this because he’s been hurt and he’s really a super sweet guy. He danced with the girl and everything. DANCED with her!
Same day, approximately five minutes later, I discover the nice character is super sneaky, crafty, and evil. Totally out for vengeance and a complete jerk! In a ten minute span this story went from one direction, did a screeching 180 (seriously, you could smell the rubber), and ricocheted off in the opposite direction. I’m STILL not sure what happened, but it is no longer the story I saw in my head when I started it.
So what do we DO???
Go with it. Just follow their lead. If you try to force them to be something or someone that they aren’t, your entire story will feel forced. No one wants that. We want a smooth read with surprises at all the right places. If you evil character is suddenly good and vice versa, roll with it.
“Why, yes, I did mean to do that. Genius, aren’t I?”
Once the entire thing is done, no one will know that it wasn’t how it originally premiered in your mind. They won’t care.
I guarantee the characters in your head are laughing at you right now, aren’t they? Yep. I knew it. It’s because they know. They know that they control the story, whether we want them to or not. So, yeah, maybe they’re not who you thought they were, but who is? This is what makes them come alive on the page (or screen). This is the heartbeat of their very (fictional) existence. If we can’t talk about them like they’re real people, why would our readers?
When a character turns asunder, just sit back. Relax. Let it play out. And don’t try to change them. They won’t go willingly.
Story time! Let me know about a time when your characters completely surprised you. I want the good. I want the bad. I want the ugly. I want to KNOW!!!
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